Setting expectations through visual content


I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about brand perception lately and how someone from within a team can see the business as vastly different to how someone from outside of the team sees it. I met someone the other day who spoke of an experience she’d had in having headshots taken. After searching around on Google she’d booked a session with a company that ticked the boxes of what she was after. When headshot day came around the experience turned out totally different from what she had expected: the location was not as advertised on the website, (brand perception shift no.1), there was a feeling of being rushed and chivvied during the session (brand perception shift no. 2), and when the photos were delivered, the diversity of shots to choose from wasn’t met (brand perception shift no. 3). 


With so much opportunity for brands to share about themselves online through things like Instagram stories, employee spotlights, and even those weird YouTube ‘unpacking’ videos, it’s a bit of an odd, disjointed experience when you have an interaction with a company that goes totally differently from expected. 


Whilst I think it is wise that people take the time to research services or products that they’re looking at using and pull out reviews and information from different sources, I believe the bigger responsibility is on the company itself to set expectations and provide transparency around who they are, what they stand for and their commitment as a company to you as the customer/client/end user. I also believe that when setting up expectations there’s room for play - little pieces intentionally left out so there is an opportunity to surprise and delight the customer… like the other day when I was in a cafe and ordered a coffee. When the barista gave it to me I also received a handful of little chocolates. “We like to give our customers special chocolates!” Totally unexpected and extremely welcome! Plus I’ve shared that nice little treat with about five people (and nothing beats word of mouth recommendations).  


I’m really interested in how brands present themselves, whether a one person company, or a larger one, and love love diving into how to showcase the different moving pieces of a brand story. I’ve highlighted three ways to do this, along with examples of companies that have done them well: 

How do you want your audience to feel?

What are the values you want to showcase?

What is unique about your brand?


Firstly - How do you want your audience to feel when they’re interacting with your brand?

Do you want them to feel energetic, connected, understood, lively, excited? How can you show that through your visual content, and is it truly part of who your company is?

Nada, a zero-waste grocery store that opened its doors here in Vancouver in June 2018 are committed to cultivating a better world by inspiring people to change the way they shop for groceries. The store is light, airy and sleek, and from the moment you step in the door you have the opportunity to interact with the products, shop, and staff. 

Nada wants its customers to feel inspired, creative, and part of a community, and I think they’ve done such a great job of doing this from the beginning of their journey. There’s plenty of opportunity to interact with the brand in store: as you bring your own containers to fill up with groceries you are immediately engaging with the technologies and team members to set things up ready for your shop. Online, there’s a lot of interaction via Instagram stories, community competitions, and the chance to suggest and vote on brands and products that get stocked. Nada also regularly holds community events in store - documentary screenings, yoga classes, DIY zero waste gift workshops, and a zero waste monthly meetup. A ton of opportunities to feel inspired, creative, and part of a community.

Customers can interact with the Nada weighing technology from the start of their shop  (photo credit: Maxine Bulloch)

Customers can interact with the Nada weighing technology from the start of their shop (photo credit: Maxine Bulloch)


Tourism Vancouver is another brand I’ve had the pleasure of working with in taking photos for the Visitor Centre. The goal was to showcase the (most joyful!) volunteers who work there, promote the volunteer program, and increase awareness of the volunteers on the street. 

The feeling of natural connection is a key piece for Tourism Vancouver and in-line with that, it was important for the images to showcase the connection between the volunteers at the centre and the visitors they’re helping  - setting an expectation that any visitor can expect the same when they visit the centre, and in turn, in their interactions with the wider community. 

(photo credit: Maxine Bulloch)

(photo credit: Maxine Bulloch)


Second - What are the values you want to showcase? 

What are the values that your business is built on? I don’t know about you, but when a company takes their values and has them be one of the first things you’re aware of when you interact with them it’s almost like extending an offering of friendship - and you’ll either connect and resonate with them or you won’t. Using images, or video, or graphics to visually display what’s important to the way you do business is a powerful way to set expectations. If you’re a business that holds clarity as a value and you have photos on your website of a beautiful office space with shelves or organised notes, when a client visits your office and finds it looking like a tornado has swept through it won’t quite measure up to what they’re expecting, and they might start to question the authenticity of your other values. 


One of the values that Tourism Vancouver has pulled out is Vancouver as a city where there are ample opportunities for moments of reflection, which can definitely be seen in the photography they use in their marketing - check out a sample of their Instagram feed to see this in action: 


I spoke to Meagan Custodio from Tourism Vancouver about setting up the expectation for visitors to have their own moments of reflection amongst the natural beauty of the city, and I think this story of a mother and daughter beautifully illustrates this value they have showcased in their visual content so well, come to life: 


“An Australian mother-daughter duo had seen the winter 2010 Olympics on TV and knew that Vancouver was somewhere they needed to go. They spent eight years planning the trip, and decided to do a whole west coast trip starting in Seattle. Their stint in Seattle didn’t quite go to plan as there was a lot of snow that shut the city down, so they spent most of their time in their hotel. When they arrived in Vancouver they were feeling disillusioned about their trip as it wasn’t panning out as planned. We sat down together and looked at their schedule. There was one sunny day coming up so I suggested that they walk along to English Bay, grab a coffee and just watch. They took the day to do that, and when they came back the following day said that that one activity was life-changing. Just having the permission to explore and enjoy that one moment made the difference for them. It wasn’t an attraction or sightseeing that made their trip, it was the feeling that they had done something they had seen in photos that was a really Vancouver thing.”


Thirdly and lastly, when you are looking at setting expectations through visual content, what is unique about your brand that you can pull out?

What has your brand stand out from others?


I think this is really important to showcase in all the mediums you can (website, blog posts, social media etc).


One brand that showcases their uniqueness through visual storytelling really well is B Corporation, Causebox, a quarterly subscription box based in the U.S based company. Their mission is to bridge the knowledge gap between socially conscious brands and consumers. They vet purposeful companies and each season, Causebox curates limited edition boxes that are filled with 6-8 products that are doing good, empowering artisans and saving the environment. When members of Causebox receive the box, they also get a magazine that tells the story of where and why the product is made, and exactly why each one is included. They’re a pretty unique model of gift box, and they use their Instagram feed to educate their audience on the company, suppliers, and the stories behind all the partnerships they foster. Their visual content is clean, original, consistent and well curated, and sets the expectation that if you subscribe, your dollar supports well researched, worthwhile brands, and you are now part of this unique business that you are helping to support. 


Et voila - take these three points as a starting point for creating clarity about who your brand is. A further suggestion is to create different campaigns or monthly focusses on each one to really educate your audience about who you are and provide a longer in depth window into how the company runs… minus the surprise and delight added bonuses of course :)

Looking to create some fresh values aligned visual content for your brand? Let’s chat. And if you’d like to talk about what it would look like to hand over the content building & strategy of your visual content then let’s chat harder!